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I’ve moved a lot since college. Almost every year in fact. From apartment to house to condo to another house. It’s the typical transient life of the twenty-something, I suppose. Though I leave a lot behind when I move—clothes, old picture frames, dishes I don’t want anymore—one thing I’ve carried with me to each new residence is a painting I bought in Paris when I was studying abroad as a junior in college.
I bought it near the Seine, where vendor after vendor lines up to sell cheap artwork, postcards, calendars and other things tourists are so drawn to. As I browsed, I came across a flimsy canvas painted with a scene of the French countryside. It was tattered at the edges and paint splotches stained its border. It was imperfect and, therefore, the vendor was selling it at a decent price. I snatched it up. I loved it. And ever since, I have carried it with me and hung it on the wall somewhere prominent. Right now, it hangs in my new office right across from my desk.
Perhaps you have something like this too. A belonging or a piece of décor that you’ve had for years and you plan to keep forever. They’re often not perfect and beautiful things, are they? They’re blankeys or dusty pictures or rusted silver spoons. It’s always what they represent and never what they look like. They represent memories or family history, so we keep them close and carry them with us.
But maybe when we carry our things with us, we are carrying more than memories. Maybe, we are carrying versions of ourselves. Maybe we hold onto them because we liked who we were when we got them. It’s like a souvenir, but rather being from a place, it’s from a time period.
I liked who I was in Paris. I was 20 years old and traveling the world with my best friends. If college isn’t real life, studying abroad is about as far from reality as you can get, and I loved every moment of it.
I caught myself the other day, staring longingly at my Paris painting. I wished I was in Europe, yes, but more than that, I wished I was 20 again and carefree and adventurous.
Then, I came across an article by Paul Angone. This question he posed was so perfect: “How many of us have experienced seasons where you want to go back to who you were because who you are doesn’t feel like you?” Me. I have. I am.
Maybe you, too?
I’m no longer transitioning out of my study abroad semester, but I am transitioning out of a job and life I grew accustomed to for the past five years. I’m working for myself, renting office space with strangers, and pitching my work as if it is not the scariest and most vulnerable thing I have ever done. And it’s hard. And I want to be back in Paris on a study abroad trip strolling the Seine.
But as Angone says, times like these are essential in order for us to change: “When the familiar is stripped away, you’re forced to search for more. When you can’t fall back on the old way of doing things, you have to find a new, better way.”
As much as I like study-abroad, fun, flighty, 20-year-old me, that is not who I am anymore. I have done a lot of things since then. I have had experiences, successes and failures that make me different from the person I was when I bought that Paris painting, and that’s a good thing.
I’m navigating with a new set of tools, and it’s shaky and weird a lot of the time, but I am growing more certain by the day that a few years from now, I will be able to look back at this time and see how crucial the shakiness and weirdness was in order for me to grow. I am certain I am finding a “better way” even if it feels hard right now.
We don’t have to grow, you know. We can choose to remain stagnant. We can choose to stare wistfully at our Paris paintings for the rest of our days and go nowhere. Or, we can accept the tension and difficulties of growth, lean on God every freaking second of every freaking day, and know that we are on a path. To where? That’s not really for us to know the specifics, but we can be certain it is somewhere.
**Come back next week to hear from Paul Angone and to enter for a chance to win a free copy of his new book, All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, And a Freaking Job!**